Recapping summer vacation seems to be all the buzz once you get back to school. It might even be the first essay children are tasked to write. But, what if your family wasn't able to go on a big vacation or any vacation at all? What if you had to move or went through a divorce? Was your child bored going to a care center week after week?
The realities of summer break for many kids often don't meet the high expectations of travel, beaches, and Disney World. This may lead to some children feeling anxious about returning to school. Can we turn our kids' perspectives around? Is there a silver lining? One way to explore is recapping the summer in terms of the small things we can be grateful for. Aside from better physical and emotional health, the benefits of expressing gratitude include better sleep, and improved empathy and self-esteem.
Nemours KidsHealth offers three suggestions to help kids practice gratitude.
- Notice good things, look for them, appreciate them.
- Savor, absorb, and really pay attention to those good things.
- Express your gratitude to yourself, write it down, or thank someone.
If we learn to appreciate simple joys, it may lead to discovering moments of adventure and wonder. Help your child remember things that were positive, even if the summer felt chaotic or stressful. Ask your child use to their senses to find small gifts they may not have noticed, such as feeling the breeze on a bike ride, listening to birds, watching lightning bugs, tasting that ice cream cone, or smelling food on the grill. Parents can be positive role models by also reflecting on the positive, expressing gratitude, and sharing this with your kids.
As learning to feel gratitude is like building any new skill, it takes practice. End each day by listing three things you, as a family, are thankful for. Establishing this great ritual will help children learn to feel gratitude daily. Finding joy can be more difficult for some children. Seeing those who are less fortunate can help a child gain much needed perspective. Perhaps volunteer at a local soup kitchen or animal shelter; there are plenty of local volunteer opportunities in the Philadelphia area.
The next step is to prepare children for the inevitable questions about their vacation. Openly discuss with children what they fear their classmates might say. Ask follow up questions to better understand their thoughts and feelings. If they felt the summer wasn't good, role play a phrase they can use to briefly describe summer and how to respond to possible questions from classmates. Finding a way to use humor often lightens the situation. Phrases will be age dependent, but here are some examples of what a child could say: "Summer was boring, but it's better than school!" or "Summer was good; It was great not to have to set an alarm!" A child could also simply say "It was fun, but summer went by too fast!"
And, for parents, try your best to let go of any guilt you may feel if your child seems disappointed. Focus on the love you have for your child and remember what Maya Angelou said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."